Tomorrowland is the latest feature film based on a Disney theme park attraction, a unique and curious trend that started with Pirates of the Caribbean that has had mixed overall results. Director Brad Bird, writer Damon Lindelof, and Entertainment Weekly critic Jeff Jensen are the creative minds behind the story involved in bringing Tomorrowland to life. Armed with a big budget, an A-list actor, and the strong backing of Disney, they deliver an ambitious film that aims for inspiration and offers the promise of movie spectacle and wonder, but falls short of really delivering on that promise.
Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is an inquisitive, scientifically gifted teenager who has aimed for the stars her entire life, filled with a sense of wonder and hope for the potential of science and creativity. Not by accident, she comes into possession of a pin that transports her to another dimension whenever she touches it. This other dimension is a world teeming with scientific creativity and exploration and it sets her out on a journey to figure out how to get to this world she has glimpsed, Tomorrowland. Her journey brings her into contact with Athena (Raffey Cassidey), a precocious, young girl who has actually recruited her for Tomorrowland because she sees a dreamer in Casey. To get there, they have to enlist the help of Frank Walker (George Clooney), a disillusioned man who was a bright boy-genius that we meet in flashback early on in the movie. Frank, Casey, and Athena have to find their way to Tomorrowland quickly, because a countdown to humanity’s end is fast approaching zero, and Casey could have the solution to averting this imminent demise.
There is a lot to like about Tomorrowland. George Clooney and Britt Robertson are very good leads, pulling off a good back-and-forth banter as she tries to convince him to buy in and fight to change the fate of the world. Robertson imbues the film with a youthful optimism while Clooney balances it out with the cynical and jaded perspective that age, time, and disappointment have instilled in him. The real stand out performance of the film, however, if Raffey Cassidey. She is a revelation. She plays her character with an experience well beyond her years. And not to give away important plot points, she is more than just a young girl, it is a complex role and she excels in it.
The film is ambitious in its scope and in its themes, borrowing a lot from the aspirational ideals that Walt Disney himself had in his vision for the theme park of Tomorrowland, that of innovation and utopia. Anyone familiar with Damon Lindelof from previous works, Lost in particular, will recognize ruminations on themes about fate and destiny at work here. There is a parable about two wolves, in fact, that reminded me of Locke explaining backgammon in the early beginnings of that show. I also took a lot of Christian symbolism from the film. These recruiters are going out into the world, almost like apostles, looking for dreamers, and giving them an invitation to a better world, a utopia or heaven on earth of some kind. The pin makes the unseen “seen” only for the person whom it is specifically intended for. And I don’t think the fact that each recruiter is equipped with twelve pins for twelve recruits(disciples) is a coincidence. The film intends to not just wow the viewer, but to hopefully inspire the viewer to change the way he or she sees the world and to make it a better place.
Unfortunately, the film has its fair share of flaws. There is a narrative framing device to the beginning and end of the film that eliminates the stakes of the film, basically removing any true sense of peril and uncertainty for the two main characters. There is a speech toward the end of the movie, delivered by essentially the governor of Tomorrowland, Nix (Hugh Laurie) that doubles as a lecture to the audience about how people are killing the earth. The film spends much of its time with the characters trying to get to Tomorrowland and the hope, and promise, and innovation of that world, but when it gets there everything is not quite as Casey and us as viewers are led to believe. The film spends so much time building up the wonder and spectacle and anticipation for the world of Tomorrowland, and then squanders most of it when we actually get there because the movie needs to wrap up. If one were a detractor of Damon Lindelof, the arch of a story building and building and building only to have little payoff could be seen as a fair assessment of Lindelof’s work overallall. Lindelof is great at building anticipation and creating a sense of wonder for the viewer to eagerly anticipate, but he is less successful at having the payoff live up to the hype he has built. Most of the time they were in the actual Tomorrowland, I found myself wishing to go back to the advertisement of Tomorrowland found in the pin.
While it is a flawed film, Tomorrowland deals in some powerful themes of hope and inspiration and challenges negativity that easily pervades our current culture as a self-fulfilling prophecy and has some really great performances. It just doesn’t deliver on much of what it promises and leaves you wanting more as a viewer than it is able to deliver.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars